Monday, August 25, 2014

Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids

This weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the Killer Nashville Writing Conference.  My topic - Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids.

Kids are innately attracted to suspense in books and movies for one simple reason - the adrenaline rush parallels the angst of adolescence.  Kids, (teens in particular), experience a personal connection on a psychological level as they writhe in their seats, wondering...What if?  Consequently, it makes perfect sense that kids make amazing suspense writers - if given the proper tools.      




"It was a dark and stormy night..."  

This is how most kids will begin their suspense story.  Not that there is anything wrong with dark and stormy nights.  Dark and stormy nights are very good when building a backdrop for suspense.  But in the interest of avoiding cliches, I introduce kid writers to the special formula of suspense writing:  G.E.M.    



G.E.M. is the acronym I coined for writing a "writhe-in-your-seat-worthy" suspense story.  It stands for Gothicism, Expansion of Time, and Magic of Three.

All suspense stories should have some elements of the gothic genre, such as the supernatural; an eerie, mysterious setting; emotion over passion; and distinctive characters who are lonely, isolated, and/or oppressed.  Throw in a tyrannical villain, a vendetta, or an illicit love affair - you've got goth gold!

Next, introduce the art of expanding time using foreshadowing, flashback, evoking sensory detail, and implementing "well...maybe dialogue."  This allows the writer to twist, turn, and tangle up the plot.  Tease your audience, I tell my students.  Pile on the problems and trap your protagonist with a ticking clock.  Every second counts with suspense!     

Finally, the Magic of Three comes into play.  The Magic of Three is a writer's trick where a series of three hints lead to a major discovery.  During the first hint, the protagonist detects something is amiss.  The second hint sparks a more intense reaction but nothing is discovered - yet.  And then - BANG!  The third hint leads to a discovery or revelation.  

Teaching suspense writing to kids breeds amazing results.  Once they learn the craft through G.E.M., they realize the power behind suspense and why audiences are drawn to it.  They recognize and appreciate suspense for what it is...the secret sauce of writing.

Remember what the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock said, "There is no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it."

So go mine your story, and find your G.E.M.  The clock is ticking...



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Killer Nashville Writers Conference



Join me next week at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference where I will be presenting "Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids."


August 24th at the Omni Hotel in Nashville, TN

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's That Time of Year...Teacher Types

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School 

teach• er |ˈtē ch ər|
noun
(official definition) – a person who teaches, esp. in a school; an adult role model who indoctrinates the younger generation intellectually, morally, and socially; one who helps others learn, as by example.

teach• er |ˈtē ch ər|
noun
(middle school student’s definition) – an adultish type person who slugs coffee, wears bad ties, frumpish jumpers, and who decided (due to his/her  own scarred teenage existence) to torture kids by inducing parental groundings through frequent phone calls home to report defective grades and deplorable behavior. Resulting outcome: avoid and ignore efforts; torture whenever possible.


Okay, J.K.!!  Teachers should be respected.  After all, most educators enjoy working with kids and some actually have something to teach us.  They are a guiding force in the molding of us adolescents and essentially our guardians from 8 to 3, Monday through Friday.  However, there ARE exceptions.  And the thing about middle school is you will have several teachers to deal with – not just one like in elementary school.  However, baring a few things in mind, you should adapt just fine.    

The first thing to realize about middle school teachers is there are certain types.  Nice and mean, right?  Actually it’s more complicated than that.  There are as many teacher types as there are personalities.  There are teachers who are nice, friendly, lenient, strict, dumb, smart, scary smart, funny, so-funny-they-should-be-a-comic-funny, boring, so-boring-they-put-you-in-a-coma-boring etc.  We’re going to focus on three basic types you will certainly come across in middle school, the telltale identifiable signs, and tips on how to deal with them to your advantage.  


The Taskmaster Control Freak/You-Ain’t-Doin’-Nothin’-in-My-Class/Lecturer
These types of teachers became teachers so they could hear themselves talk. The truth is that they have no interest in you or what you have to say. You’ll know them by the classroom arrangement, which consists of unyielding vertical rows with their bully pulpit lectern front and center. Don’t even think about asking to use the bathroom or going to your locker, as the hall pass is simply an accessory for the Taskmaster (i.e., not to be used). And, don’t get sick in their classrooms because you ain’t leaving! Their stock answer for everything is “No!” They have no sense of humor and no sense of mercy. We advise lying low in their classes, as their tolerance for any kind of adolescent shenanigans is nonexistent. Hand in your homework on time and keep a low profile. Cheating, passing notes, and otherwise acting up are unheard of in the Taskmaster’s classroom.


The Fossil/I-Had-Your-Grandmother-and-Will-Have-Your-
Children’s-Children-and-Never-Ever-Retire Teacher
The Fossil tends to linger in the math and science departments. They are well known throughout the local community—and for good reason. They’ve been around forever, and as a result, they have built a solid reputation. They’ve been around so long that their “Just Say No” antidrug posters from the ’80s have an inch of dust caked to them. They use the same old lesson plans, projects, and activities they’ve had since college. Basically, they do their jobs on cruise control and aren’t apt to press the accelerator anytime soon.


Mr./Ms. Good Time/I-Want-to-Be-Liked Teacher
Mr. and Ms. Good Time are usually young and fresh out of college, and their entire educational philosophy is based on being liked. These teachers tend to be easy graders and give less homework (with the exception of a deep fondness for projects) than the others. Their strength is creativity and working outside the textbook (think complete opposite of the Taskmaster). The best thing to do in Mr. and Ms. Good Time’s class is to get them off topic by asking some real-world questions. Also, convince them that a once-a-week party is academically beneficial and aligns perfectly with the standards. Other things to try are having them take you outside, watching teen angst movies, and throwing Game Day because it promotes personal development and self-esteem.

So good luck as you start middle school.  We know you will get "a handle" on those teacher types soon enough, but this should give you the jumpstart needed as you head to that first class.

Until next time...Hearts and Sharpies!
Lucy and CeCee



Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Parent's Guide to Surviving (and Thriving) Middle School

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…



6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.    

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed.
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus. Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list. This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language. When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.




This nostalgic read is both fun and informative in its perspective of middle school existence. The author's use of tweenie vernacular adds to character development and theme relevance.  - Readers Favorite

(Dana) knows her audience well, and has pitched this book to them perfectly, packing useful information into a fun, frothy read....Any sixth grade girl who's facing middle school as if it were a firing squad will find great comfort here.  Both entertaining and useful, How to Survive is a winner.  Starred Review - BlueInk Review 

Lucy and CeCee's guide to middle-school survival is a fast-paced, funny, and insightful book that will serve to clarify typical teen lingo and behavior for adults and give guidelines to tween and teenage kids who are having trouble navigating the middle-school milieu. - Clarion Reviews

But while the girls' teachings are often amusing, what really makes Dana's book exceptional are the girls themselves....Lucy and CeCee's target audience may consist solely of tweens, but this is a book that can educate readers of any age. - Kirkus Reviews

With plenty of humor and adventure, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School" is a strongly recommended addition to young adult fiction collections, not to be missed.  - Midwest Book Review


Sunday, July 6, 2014

An Excerpt from the Award-Winning Cheerage Fearage

Nothing says summer like mosquitoes, sunburns, and sweat...but there can be worse things...




            The silver moon threw light on the two girls as they eagerly peeled off their clothes, tossing them in heaps on the wooden dock.  They jumped off into the vast lake, giggling and squealing at the shock of its coldness as the dark water swallowed up their tanned, limber bodies.
            Although fierce competitors on the school’s most exclusive faction, the two girls were the best of friends with much in common.  They ran with the same elite crowd, dated the same square-jawed jocks, and chose the same stylish trends to be mindlessly imitated by featureless masses.  Quite simply, they were perfection personified coupled with a “rules-don’t apply-to-us” attitude that even the teachers chose not to challenge - the outcome resulting in unequivocal classroom suicide. 
            “Nervous about tomorrow?” asked the sandy blonde with an I-know-better grin.
            “Yeah, right,” shot back the redhead.  “It’s in the bag, sister.  Fly high or die.”
            “You know I love you best, right?
            “Of course.  It’s you and me forever.”
            They traded playful splashes and squeals until without warning, the blonde gripped the redhead’s neck taking her under.  She held down the thrashing body, welcoming the newfound power and control that had evaded her for so long.  Vindication was only moments away….
Responding to a startling kick to the shin, she released the girl without delay playing it off with a full-bodied laugh.  “What are you doing?” the redhead yelled, spastically choking.  “You trying to kill me?”
“Relax,” said the blonde.  “You’re my best friend.  I would never hurt you.  You know that, right?”
But the redhead didn’t answer – at least not with words.  Her shrill scream was cut short by the blonde thrusting her under again, this time with even more force.  She yanked tufts of the covetous red hair everyone always spoke about, the crowning feature that solidified her title of reigning school beauty.  Brutally jerking her head to the left and wrenching it to the right, she forced the girl to swallow massive amounts of water. 
The redhead’s adrenaline now metastasized into rank primal fear.  She kicked and scratched for dear life causing the blonde to tighten her grip.  Overcome with sheer panic followed by pure helplessness, the redhead relaxed into an inevitable surrender. 
With the determined patience of a professional assassin, the blonde counted slowly to fifty, waiting for the shapely, agile form that had cruelly beat her out of every competition to go still and flaccid forever.  She delighted in feeling the strong steady pulse slow to a mere fleeting throb and then finally to complete nothingness.  When the time came, the blonde released the body into the dark water without pause or sentiment, and gracefully swam back to the dock, crawling up the ladder with a smooth, athletic gait. 
            Mission accomplished. 
            Giddily content, the blonde patted away streaming lines of lake water with her tank top, tossing it back on along with her vintage cutoffs.  She left the other’s clothes balled up below the “NO DIVING” sign and never looked back.  The long-suffering second-in-command was now the captain of the Valentine Cheerleading Squad.

            It was official.  The queen bee had be dethroned and destroyed.


Now available by Wild Child Publishing:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Take Me to Your Reader: UtopYA 2014

I had a great weekend attending the UtopYA Convention here in Nashville.  As a newbie attendee, I wasn't sure what to expect but had a fab time milling around Area 51 amid aliens, wizards, and über-paranormal writers.

The convention kicked off with an electrifying keynote address by bestselling author, Sylvia Day.  Following that were informative panel discussions, such as "Putting Together a Kick A** Street Team," "The Big Bang: World Building," and ostensibly today's hottest YA topic: "YA vs. NA: Today and Tomorrow."

The first-of-its-kind convention for women writers of contemporary and supernatural YA and NA fiction, this unconventional convention was out of this world (literally)!

(Me with my new extraterrestrial friend!)